AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The West Texas A&M University nursing department held a poverty simulator to teach future healthcare professionals the importance of empathy.

WT Nursing Instructor Laura Reyher said during the simulation students experience a month in the life of a person living in poverty. There were 26 scenarios that students could be assigned including being a single parent, grandparents raising grandchildren, elderly people living alone, and limited income.

“It really helps our students to get a better grasp of the empathy and compassion that it requires to take care of people who have difficulties paying for their food, don’t have safe housing, can’t find jobs, don’t have transportation, can’t afford their medications, things like that,” said Reyher. “That’s a lot of a lot of what goes on with our patients and we want our students to have a better understanding about that.”

According to Reyher WT supplies about 70% of the nursing population in Amarillo and surrounding areas. The simulation gives students who grew up in moderate-income households a different perspective on how income impacts health.

“They are really surprised at just how stressful it is,” said Reyher. “Sometimes our students may have the idea that a person living in poverty kind of has a lot of ease, or it’s not hard, or they just get a lot of handouts or things like that. That is far from the truth. It is a very difficult life. Very stressful.”

Reyher continued, “We already know that a lot of cardiovascular issues come about because of toxic levels of stress. We said that the general population, people under a lot of stress due to whatever might happen, get sick a lot more. So people that live in those kinds of situations get sick much more frequently and we need to be tuned in to those kinds of things.”

Also in attendance at the poverty simulator were pre-med students from Midland College. Associate biology professor at Midland College and WT graduate Shawna Lopez said the experience was eye-opening and leaves a lasting impression.

“Our first year we brought our students, and it was very eye-opening,” said Lopez. “For me, it was really triggering it brought back a flood of emotions. So, the debrief is really, probably one of the best parts of the simulation. Going through the simulation is spectacular but the debrief, talking about the experience and the emotions that you felt is probably one of the highlights of the entire experience.”

Lopez said when she attended WT they didn’t have a poverty simulator and the reach that WT is having on rural communities is making a difference.

“Midland is considered somewhat rural, but I think we are kind of hand in hand in our overall goal,” said Lopez. “The goal for our program is to get these pre-med students through medical school, with the hopes of them coming back and serving in a rural community. So, it is great reach for WT for us in both aspects to you know, teach students how we can work with other institutions and provide different types of collaborations.”

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